Government has been tasked to prioritize enactment of the Human Rights enforcement bill 2015, to make the horizontal application of the bill of rights workable.
The recommendation comes after a study by a group of civil society organizations on the practice of corporate accountability in Uganda.
According to a recent report released at Makerere University, the civil society organizations, a number corporations operating in Uganda especially in the extractive industry are said to be violating human rights under the watch of the government authorities.
The report titled “the State of Corporate Accountability In Uganda” says residents from the mining centers in Moroto, Mukono and Lake Albertine region had concerns over exploitation, health risks, occupational safety, land rights and environmental pollution related to the companies operating in their respective areas.
Presenting the report at the 3rd National Conference on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Dr. Christopher Mbazira from the Uganda Consortium on Corporate Accountability noted that whereas there Human rights provisions in the constitution, the laws have not been fully enforced to address violations of such rights by the corporate companies.
“Corporations can bear human rights obligations and can as a result, be held accountable for them. The rights for which corporations can be held accountable include the right to a healthy environment; the right not to be subjected to discrimination, right of children to protection of economic exploitation and labour rights among others. However it remains unclear whether all these rights can be enforced directly against corporations by way of a direct constitutional action, the few cases decided on this show that the courts accept such direct constitutional actions but they do so without considering the relevant debate on the issue” –the State of Corporate Accountability in Uganda.
Because of this finding the civil society now advocating for the enactment of the draft Human Rights enforcement bill 2015 in order implement the bill of rights as scheduled in the constitution.
Mbazira said that there is also need for the state to raise awareness on the human rights responsibilities of corporations. He stresses that this can be done by encouraging corporations to adopt corporates codes of conduct that allow communities to engage with corporations and to make tangible corporate social responsibility commitments which they must keep.
In some instances corporates have embarked on projects worth millions of shillings which are not necessarily the priorities of the people in the community.
Interacting with the Sunrise Newspaper on the sidelines of the conference Joshua Kisawuzi who was part of the research team gave an example that a corporate can spend millions of shillings on celebrated music artists to entertain the community as part of its corporate social responsibility, yet the priority for the residents in that particular area is putting in a Borehole.
Government has been very keen at promoting both local and foreign investors, and the efforts have yielded results. These investments positively impact on the economy and unfortunately they also present challenges to the communities.
“Corporations play both a positive and negative role in the communities within which they operate. However communities highlighted concerns such as exploitation of local miners, failure to provide protective gear and medical care, causing social discord and being sidelined in decision making relating to land acquisition,” states the State of Corporate Accountability in Uganda
In some cases, the report states, these socio-economic and cultural rights have been violated with the knowledge of the government.
According to the testimonies of the residents, the exploitation of local miners disregard of the environment, disruption of community life, land grabbing and evictions can be seen as a means by which corporations meet the high costs of doing business in poorer communities.
The Report alleges that government sent soldiers to protect Jan Mangal, Tororo Cement and Dao Africa when communities demonstrated against these corporations protect.
One of the major negative impacts of the corporation working in the extractive industry is the environmental pollution.
Although the environment impact assessments were conducted, some of these corporations like Seyani Brothers and Tong Da China International in Nakisunga have caused pollution, cracking of houses in the area, miscarriages among women and other forms damages with impunity.
It is against this background that the study recommends government to strengthen the statutory provisions on environmental impact assessment and audits by requiring all corporations to consider the impact of their projects and business on constitutionally protected rights
The report further recommends that government should clarify the role of the Uganda Investment Authority with regard to ensuring that corporations conduct business consistently with the rights the constitution protects.
Responses from other stakeholders faulted government for lacking political will to stop the continued violations of human rights and its failure to implement the available laws. These corporations in most cases are given protection from security agencies like the Uganda Police.
Speaking at the third conference on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights held at Makerere University law don Prof. Jean John Barya says that the government’s decision to over liberalization of the economy has led to flooding the market with many foreign businesses.
Barya adds that the economy has opened up so much to the extent that businesses that would be easily done by Ugandans were taken over by Kenyan and South Africans. Participants also decried what they refer to favoring foreign investment at the expense of protection of the citizens’ rights which are even stipulated in the constitution which is the supreme law.